Last year Coach Dabo Swinney promised that it wouldn’t be 34 years again until Clemson returned to the National Championship game, referencing the time Coach Danny Ford led the Tigers to their only national championship in a 22-15 victory over Coach Tom Osborne’s Nebraska Cornhuskers. He kept his word, bringing the Tigers back for a rematch against Alabama. And what we got was another great championship game, but this time the Tigers came home with the national championship trophy.
The first two possessions by both teams were defensive displays, although the Tiger offense fared a bit better and moved down the field before stalling and missing a 4th and 1 conversion in Alabama territory when Jordan Leggett made one of the most pathetic attempts at a block that I have seen in a while. The Tide responded with a drive that had the Tigers out of position on a couple of big plays. A personal foul penalty of Clelin Ferrell put Alabama deep in Tiger territory and Alabama ran it in from 25 yards out with a powerful run by Bo Scarborough.
The Tigers responded with another good drive that appeared to be off to a good start with a nice kickoff return by Artavis Scott, but another personal foul penalty negated it. The drive stalled. The Tide responded with a decent drive but the Tiger defense stiffened and forced a punt that was partially blocked. Luck was with the Tide, though, and the ball rolled into Tiger territory. Clemson made another mistake with a bad snap that the Tide recovered but the defense had a good set of plays and pushed Alabama back and forced them to punt. The Tide once again got a good bounce and put the Tiger offense on their own one yard line. Wayne Gallman ran hard and pushed the Tigers forward. Deshaun Watson tried to get a first down on an inside run on 2 and 2 but didn’t get it. Gallman followed with a first down run. Gallman continued to run well, but the drive stalled. Andy Teasdall had a nice punt to end the Tiger possession.
Alabama got Scarborough loose on the outside for another score to make it 14-0. They probably took good notes on what Dalvin Cook had done to the Tiger defense in the FSU game. Clemson responded with an ineffectual drive where the offensive line was getting their butts kicked in every direction. The Tiger offense was in serious need of a change of plans. The defense did a nice job holding the Tide on the next possession.
The Tigers finally found a rhythm in their next offensive series. Deon Cain had a nice catch and run and Leggett had a good catch up the middle splitting the Bama safeties. Watson ran the ball in from 8 yards out to make the score 14-7 Bama. The Tiger defense played well on the next Bama series. Boulware obviously saw something on third down to get his guys in position to stuff the third down run. The half then ended with ineffective drives by both teams.
The Tigers got the ball first in the second half and kept trying to run Gallman into the teeth of the Bama defense. The result was a strip of Gallman. The Tiger defense did a good job holding the Tide and limiting them to a field goal to make the score 17-7. The Tigers responded by moving the ball down the field, finally going to a back shoulder fade at one point. The way Bama’s corners were playing, I expected to see those kinds of throws sooner. The drive eventually stalled but Watson executed a nice punt on 4th down to pin the Tide at the 5 yard line. Looking to get the ball back to the offense, the Tiger defense kept the Tide in check, but Ferrell went out with an ankle injury. He walked off the field and Tiger fans were hopeful he would be able to return but he did not. The Alabama punt was short and the Tigers finally had good position.
The Tigers then had a good drive, with Deon Cain making a nice diving catch. Watson later found Renfow on third down and Mr. Clutch exhibited some slippery running to get into the end zone from 24 yards out to pull the Tigers within three at 17-14. But the Tiger defense responded with a busted play on Bama tight end O.J. Howard who got loose for a long TD catch. The Tigers responded with a good drive with back shoulder fade throws working well. I began to get the feeling that the Tigers had tired out the Bama defensive line, and that seemed to be right as the 4th quarter played out. The Tigers then put it in the end zone on a 4 yard pass to Mike Williams to pull the Tigers back to within three, 24-21.
The Tiger defense had a good series, forcing the Tide to punt after Dexter Lawrence made an athletic play for a 340 pound defensive tackle on a third down screen pass to tackle the tight end. Unfortunately Bama sacked Watson on first down in the next series, and that pretty much doomed the series. On 3rd and long Watson threw a short pass to Gallman well short of the first down and Teasdall was back on the field to punt. Fortunately, the Tiger defense came through with a three and out.
The ensuing Tiger drive started well, but stalled when Leggett couldn’t quite pull down a 3rd down pass. The Tiger defense, once again, came through and gave the offense another chance to win the game. The offense responded with a great drive with Williams making one of his usual acrobatic catches. Watson had a nice run to get the ball inside the one yard line and Gallman then punched it in to give the Tigers their first lead, 28-24. With four and a half minutes left, could the defense do it again?
They did not. Bama went into the trick play bag with a hitch and throw to Howard. Hurts then got loose and scored to pull the Tide back ahead 31-28. The game was again where the Tigers wanted it: in the hands of Deshaun Watson and and the talented Clemson offense. With great catches by Williams and Leggett during the drive, the Tigers moved down the field. With seconds left and the Bama defense looking for a throw to Williams, Mr. Clutch Renfrow made the catch for the score and put the Tigers ahead 35-31. After 35 years, the Tigers had finally made it back to the top of the mountain.
STS will have full coverage of this historic win by the Tigers in the coming days. Let’s hear your thoughts below on your national champion Clemson Tiger football team!